Erosion and Subsequent Transport State of Escherichia coli from Cowpats

Muirhead, R.W., Collins, R.P., Bremer, P.J.

Processes by which fecal bacteria enter overland flow and their transportation state to surface waters are poorly understood, making the effectiveness of measures designed to intercept this pathway, such as vegetated buffer strips, difficult to predict. Freshly made and aged (up to 30 days) cowpats were exposed to simulated rainfall, and samples of the cowpat material and runoff were collected. Escherichia coli in the runoff samples were separated into attached (to particles) and unattached fractions, and the unattached fraction was analyzed to determine if the cells were clumped. Within cowpats, E. coli grew for 6 to 14 days, rather than following a typical logarithmic die-off curve. E. coli numbers in the runoff correlated with numbers inside the cowpat. Most of the E. coli organisms eroded from the cowpats were transported as single cells, and only a small percentage (about 8%) attached to particles. The erosion of E. coli from cowpats and the state in which the cells were transported did not vary with time within a single rainfall event or over time as the cowpats aged and dried out. These findings indicate that cowpats can remain a significant source of E. coli in overland flow for more than 30 days. As well, most of the E. coli organisms eroded from cowpats will occur as readily transportable single cells.